New York Times: In 1985, the Soviet Union opened a major radar installation in Gabala, Azerbaijan. For the past decade, Russia has been renting the facility from the host country for $7 million per year. Negotiations to renew the lease fell apart after Azerbaijan demanded an increase in rent to $300 million per year. The post at Gabala provided radar coverage over much of the Middle East, which was used for monitoring missile launches in that area. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for Russian president Vladimir Putin, says that other radar sites already cover the same areas that the Gabala post did and that there will be no threat to Russia’s ability to monitor the airspace. Russia has maintained lease agreements with several former Soviet states for key military installations, including the base of the Russian navy’s Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine and the Baikonur space facility in Kazakhstan. Although there have been previous renegotiations for many of those facilities, this is the first time that Russia had not agreed to new terms.
Nature: The details of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s request for further funding for the National Ignition Facility show a shift toward lower-energy tests with the ultimate goal of initiating thermonuclear fusion. And the three-year deadline set by the plan isn’t for achieving successful fusion, but for determining whether fusion will actually be possible using the techniques employed by NIF. The plan is to perform reduced-power tests and to refine computer simulations in an attempt to understand why the facility has failed so far. Researchers at the facility will also examine alternative methods for initiating fusion, including directly striking the fuel pellets with the lasers, and using magnetic fields to squeeze the fuel pellets. The NNSA’s plan says that if this three-year period passes without evidence of progress or evidence that the facility would be able to initiate fusion, future funding would likely be eliminated.
BBC: The X-37B is a reusable, unmanned space plane operated by the US Air Force. It looks like a smaller version of the now retired space shuttle and launches on top of an Atlas V rocket. Its missions have been kept secret. The launch on 11 December from Patrick Air Force Base in Florida was just the third in the craft’s history, with the two previous missions lasting 224 days and 469 days. Speculation abounds over the craft’s missions and capabilities, though the air force’s official description of the X-37B is that it is an “experimental test program to demonstrate technologies for a reliable, reusable, unmanned space test platform.”
Ars Technica: Cycles in Earth’s orbit are known to have driven changes in climate by altering the amount of sunlight reaching Earth. A new analysis of geologic records shows that the cycles may also have influenced the rate of volcanic activity. Using sediment cores collected from the sea floor around the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Fire, researchers from Germany and the US created a record of volcanic activity over the past million years. Based on that record, they identified cycles of activity that aligned with several of the known orbital cycles affecting climate. The most significant was the 41 000-year cycle in Earth’s axial tilt. In their paper, the researchers suggest that the volcanic activity could be connected to crust stress caused by glacial cycles. As sea levels rise or glaciers grow, the water exerts more pressure on the crust, pushing it downward and causing nearby areas of the crust to bulge outward. In a simulation of crust stresses during the last ice age, the researchers found a level of volcanic activity similar to that recorded in Central America. They also noted that the peaks of volcanic activity lagged behind the peaks in climate changes, which they indicate makes sense because of the slower response times of crust stresses.